Rock ‘n’ roll has come a long way in its 50-odd years on the planet. Souls have been sold to it, cities have been built on it, grown men in black spandex and greasepaint declare how they just want to do it all night, and party every day. It ain’t noise pollution, and it ain’t gonna die.
And, fact of the matter is, it isn’t just for kids anymore. The days when rock music was quarantined to sock hops and school auditoriums are over. Rock ‘n’ roll is all grown up, out of the house, and spends a little too much time down at the bar, where it’s developed quite the drinking habit.
In fact, with the live music scene so bar-centric, is there any room left for kids at all?
That’s a question that Andy Sweetser’s been asking. His band, Raccoon Party, is a local hardcore quintet with only one member old enough to buy tobacco. (Note to parents of Raccoon Party’s members: This is not, by any means, intended to insinuate that any of your kids smoke or partake of tobacco products.) So their options for performance venues are pretty limited.
“We were going to play at [a downtown bar], but then they told us that none of our friends would be allowed in,” laments Sweetser. The law doesn’t stop minors from entering bars, but concerned saloonkeepers — knowing they’re subject to strict penalties if enforcement agents find youngsters buying or sharing a drink — have created policies to keep the under-21 crowd out. Sweetser says those house rules have forced his band to play mostly underground shows in houses or rented spaces that would never fly with the fire marshal as on-the-books entertainment venues.
There are a number of underground venues operating in the city, and the existence of such spaces in Asheville is nothing new. Venues like the Big Idea — a space on Carolina Lane that shut its doors in 2005 — have been immensely popular over the years, but have also been cited by the fire marshal for violations including inadequate fire exits. High rent and fire codes have made it hard to keep a dry venue up and running. Thus, underground venues tend to go under as frequently as they open. While this cycle leads to lots of great eviction parties, it doesn’t do much to sustain an all-ages music scene.
For Raccoon Party, though, the shows at these ephemeral underground venues are inspirational. Many bands in the punk scene prefer all-ages venues to bars. All-ages shows have long been one of the basic tenets of punk, along with self-sufficiency and cheap door prices. In the ’80s, bands from the D.C. straight-edge movement like Minor Threat and Rites of Spring championed the cause of all-ages shows by holding performances in venues like churches and rented halls.
This is all fine and good … if you’re into punk. The members of Lose This Gun, a local high-school outfit that plays Strokes-esque hipster rock, however, haven’t had so much luck playing shows for audiences beyond their Asheville High schoolmates. The band has played a slew of shows at rented venues such as Asheville Arts and “some random house shows,” reveals front man Robert Adams.
“It’s kind of hard to play actual local shows because there isn’t much of a scene … of people who listen to rock ‘n’ roll music,” says Lose This Gun bassist Corey Abshire.
Thing is, there are plenty of folks in town into rock ‘n’ roll music, but the local pillars of rock — bands such as The Reigning Sound, Makeout Room and Suttree — will usually be found down at the bar. And sure, there are bars in town that let the kids in to pump their fists at live shows, but not many. The Grey Eagle does, and so does the New French Bar, the Westville Pub and, occasionally, The Orange Peel.
There are other all-ages options: It just takes a certain amount of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to organize such a place. Joel Hutcheson, owner of Lexington Avenue’s Static Age Records, has hosted live music for the past four years.
“The shows are always all ages,” Hutcheson declares with pride. “The whole purpose of having an all-ages show is to not associate the music with drinking, or smoking even. At least half the people that are [at shows] here are around the 18 mark, if not younger. If I can have more and more young people come and get exposed to all kinds of different facets of music, then I think that would be amazing.”
Back in the day, Hutcheson remembers having to forge IDs to gain entry to top music venues: “We went to the grocery store and they had these ‘Protect-a-kid’ identifier cards, and we just made a bunch of them, put our pictures on them and wrote the wrong ages in. That was the only way we got to play.”
Speaking to Hutcheson, you can tell his desire to expose kids to music extends far beyond the cash register. His advice for teenage bands like Raccoon Party and Lose This Gun?
“Play as much as possible. And, seriously, aggravate the hell out of people to get them to let you play. Just keep after them, and challenge their decisions not to have all-ages shows. Do it.”
[Freelance writer and cartoonist Ethan Clark is a regular contributor to Xpress.]
Static Age Records regularly hosts free, all-ages in-store shows. Their next in-store takes place on Saturday, Nov. 25, and features performances by Agent X and South French Broads. For a complete listing, visit www.staticagerecords.com. Other noteworthy venues for all-ages shows include music stores Karmasonics (259-9949) and Harvest Records (258-2999), both of which hold regular in-store performances. For more from the not-yet-old-enough-to-vote bands profiled in this article, check out www.myspace.com/LoseThisGun1 and www.myspace.com/RaccoonParty.